On December 23, Guyana and the Inter-American Development Bank signed a grant agreement for surveys in several areas including unemployment.

Under the household survey of living conditions, information will be accumulated on income, health, employment, educational attainment and housing conditions. This data is intended to allow for the computation of poverty rates and income inequality.

Information on unemployment and employment participation will be garnered under the labour force survey which will be conducted on a quarterly basis.

The crime and victimisation survey will look at perceptions on crime, violence, and domestic abuse as well as the underlying issues of pervasiveness, underreporting, socio-economic profiles, and geographic patterns.

At the signing for the surveys, Minister of Finance Winston Jordan said that he was heartened by the agreements as very early in the life of the Government, a premium was placed on statistical data so that government policies and plans could be carried out in a structured and more informed manner. This, he said, will ensure that resources are optimally utilised.

The premium on data is indeed critically important for the government to be able to invest in sensible policies and realignment. It will also present a valuable prism for the public and other stakeholders to examine the efficacy of government programmes and expenditures. A key statistic which will be keenly awaited would be the level of unemployment and underemployment here. For a number of years, the previous PPP/C administration had seemed afraid of those figures ending up in the public domain. No up-to-date figures were presented on unemployment and its geographic distribution and its Bureau of Statistics disseminated nothing on this.  Hopefully this will change very soon and by the end of the second quarter next year there will be some useful data on unemployment. Such data will be crucial to government strategies in relation to job creation and technical and vocational training. The upcoming budget is expected to frontally address this problem.

While the APNU+AFC administration has given several verbal commitments about putting data at the centre of policy making, it has to ensure that this philosophy suffuses all aspects of its government and governance. Each of the line ministries has to pay attention to data gathering whether it be in relation to the number of unemployed persons approaching the Ministry of Social Protection, the number of pregnancies in the health system that developed complications or the number of bona fide tourists who visit the country each year. It all matters. The storage, processing and disseminating of this data will also pose tests for the administration.

There must be no unwillingness by the government to disseminate data particularly where there is no security risk. Very early in the life of this new administration, Stabroek News requested information on the number of foreigners who had been naturalised here in recent years. This was seen to be an area of significant interest considering the cases where Chinese nationals were able to gain natural resource rights through naturalisation. It is a process which can be abused and so the public has a right to be aware of the numbers, whether the required process had been followed and whether those persons were still living here. Over the last 20 years, there have also been large numbers of Brazilians working in the gold fields with a number of them applying for naturalisation. How many of these persons and other nationalities have been naturalised? Such information would also help the public to understand any policy changes in relation to immigration.

Responsibility for these figures now rests with the Ministry of Citizenship, one of the new portfolios carved by the Granger administration out of the old Ministry of Home Affairs. Despite several requests by Stabroek News to the Ministry of Citizenship over a number of months, it has offered various excuses but not been able to provide numbers.  It is either that data gathering at the former Ministry of Home Affairs was so ruinous or not being done at all or the Ministry of Citizenship is not willing to provide the data.

Either way, this poses a test to the government about its willingness to be open and its recognition of the importance of data not only to it but to the public.

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